A friend’s daughter is attending the University of San Diego. As a part time job, Karen got an interesting position at the world famous San Diego Zoo where she was helping with the elephants, a great job for a biology major.
You could fill the Grand Canyon with what I don’t know about pachyderms, so when I was invited down to get a private, after hours tour to meet the elephants up close and personal, I knew I just had to go.
As it happened, one of my San Diego clients needed me at their office for a prep and polish session for an upcoming VC meeting -- a typical consulting assignment for me -- so the timing was set.
At this point you might well ask what elephants -- or an invisible man for that matter -- have to do with marketing, sales and fundraising. Read on . . .
After my arrival at the zoo, before we went out to the elephant pens, we were having a cup of coffee while Karen and a fellow employee were giving me the run-down on this unusual job. It was an entry level job involving -- among other things -- gloves, shovels, pitchforks, buckets and wheelbarrows, but interesting nevertheless.
You could tell that Karen had fallen in love with the job and with Molly, “her” elephant. With every sentence her excitement grew. She talked about how Molly weighed about 200 pounds and stood over 2 feet tall at birth and then loudly exclaimed, “Molly is now three years old and weighs 3,000 pounds!”
She and her colleague almost high-fived each other with this statement. It obviously meant something important to both of them, but to me it didn’t mean a darn thing.
As I hadn't actually met Molly yet, I didn’t know if she was anorexic and as thin-as-a-rail as elephants ever get. Or was this toddler a giant in the making?
For a three-year-old did she only weigh 3,000 pounds, or did she already weigh 3,000 pounds? For lack of a few extra words I was left to draw my own conclusions, and they were 180 degrees out of phase. Svelte Molly, or corpulent Molly?
This parable’s punch line is that in every VC fund raising presentation I have sat through -- and I have sat through many hundreds -- there are usually more than just a few “Molly statements” made . . . statements meaningful to the presenter but not necessarily to the audience.
“Our RAID disk drives have a 5 millisecond seek time.”
“We are using Java.”
“We are Wi-Fi and WiMAX agnostic.”
When I hear “Molly statements” like these I am left with several options. I can smile and nod knowingly, hoping that later statements will clarify any confusion. I can ask a question, perhaps showing my ignorance of the topic. Or, I can draw my own conclusions; and in Molly's case it probably would have been a 50/50 coin flip . . . svelte or corpulent?
There, I was given a special gift by a seasoned sales professional whose name I have long forgotten: a 2” high invisible man (see photo).
He lives to this day unobtrusively sitting on my right shoulder. Naturally if I talked directly to him, well . . . you can imagine the consequences; I would be carted away.
But there he sits, listening to everything I say. If he ever hears me say “Molly is now three years old and weighs 3,000 pounds!” he leans over, tugs on my earlobe to get my attention, and whispers in my ear two magical words: “so what?”
The answer to “so what?” almost always points directly to benefits, clarifiers or differentiators which help the listener draw the right conclusions and in the best possible light.
So, through the magic of cloning and the internet, I'm now giving you your own invisible man. Listen to him when he says "so what?"
“Our RAID disk drives have a 5 millisecond seek time (so what?)
. . . so they’ll outperform all competitive solutions by at least 40%.”
“We are using Java (so what?)
. . . which allows for rapid development and device independence.”
“We are Wi-Fi and WiMAX agnostic (so what?)
. . . so our service will work both now and in the future as new standards emerge."
“So what?” is a powerful mindset -- an attitude really -- that should be part of your mental toolkit anytime you are trying to communicate who you are or what you, your product or company does.
P.S. Take a close look at Molly’s small ears. That, I learned, is a dead giveaway that she is an Asian elephant. Her larger African counterparts have huge floppy ears that help lower their body temperature by 10 degrees, since the blood circulating in their ears acts exactly like a car’s radiator. Molly is, in fact, three years old and weighs 3,000 pounds. So what? She is on the right growth path and probably will measure about 9 feet at the shoulder and weigh about 8,500 pounds when fully grown. This was the unspoken third possibility, not svelte or corpulent, but normal and fit!